Finding creative spaces to turn intentions in to actions.

The lab idea started with a group of artists asking “What is our role in society’s transition to one that is life sustaining?”  

 “It’s too big, too complex, we don’t know how to ….” was the reply of the hundreds of creative Leaders, artists and policy makers we have explored this question with over the last 3 years. 


Teo Greenstreet CidaCo Associate, initiated the lab to bring together artists to explore and devise a creative space that can help people tackle this complexity and un-earth the rich mix of skills and concepts that can help turn our intentions into action and the challenge into opportunity.

The lab is a collaboration with writer Sarah Woods, visual/conceptual artist Bob Levene, clown/performer Jason Hurd, and the convenors of Case For Optimism Lucy Neal and Hilary Jennings. The lab will be in Residency at Bank Street Arts, Sheffield in September 2013. It is the development stage in making a participatory event for individuals and organisations who want to promote and deepen their creative response to the sustainability challenges.

The lab will explore a new kind of compass, one that divides our experience of the world into four realms: how we experience the world (Be), our core values (Me), our identity as part of the biosphere (We) and our capacity for collective innovation (Do). It will collectively devise and pilot activities and spaces that help us experience these realms and play with skills and concepts they conjure up.

The completed event will reach people in different settings including community and social settings, conference and work settings. It will include community groups, arts and cultural organisations, non profits and change agents, policy specialists and activists, in the UK and globally helping them:

–        See the wood for the trees – explore and draw together the skills and concepts we may need for acting effectively. These skills are scattered across our lives. The compass brings these fragments together into a coherent whole.

–        Understand ourselves as part of the wider natural world – re-orientate ourselves as dependent upon the biosphere, developing our ‘ecological identity’ .

–        Gain confidence to future build – the skills and craft of co-creating to grow sustainable and resilient organisations, communities and systems.

The lab is part of CidaCo’s programme collaborating with artists, creative and cultural organisation to develop innovative solutions that achieve change and sustainable growth. From our Yorkshire base and bolstered by a strategic alliance with Silicon Valley innovation specialists EDG, we take a global approach to inspire our UK and international clients to tackle challenges with new thinking and different perspectives. A unique mix of creativity, innovation and entrepreneurialism is the backbone of our work with over 600 organisations in 34 countries to date.


Be Me We Do
Following news that Arts Council were not supporting the Artists’ Lab, the project was restructured. The loss of a day meant that design testing was limited to 3 groups. However the restructure brought in a new residency partnership with Bank Street Arts, providing space and critical input. This meant the project goals could remain unchanged and became a positive by bringing a new partner into the team that provided the space for public testing. Over the course of the residency we explored the design of participatory activity and tested these out through three Public sharing events and two trials with organisations. The lab required honest, clear and incisive communication among the artists to reflect on a compiled bank of over 50 ideas. Using structures of stories, the design process involved much improvisation and courage to test ideas out publically. 

Key Insights we gained:

  • We have to start where you are:  the Lab recognised the real negative impact if participants can’t relate to the process  and/or language and so cant/don’t join in or don’t “join the dots”. The subject is complicated as it is, crossing many disciplines and touching sensitive subjects. This is about personal development and our daily lives. This insight led to refocusing of the design towards our abilities.


  • Not telling –  there is no right way. This insight recognises how much our attention and energy is taken by debate. This insight shifts design emphasis to how we are with the  context of sustainability and climate change, taking the issue as a given. This has been born out in a recent RSA article. Recognised this shift heightens the chances of engaging participation.


  • Loose enough design to make it their own. This insight turned the programme design upon its head, providing space for participants to recognise themselves and their capabilities in it. This meant that the language and shorthand generated by participants was adopted and applied in different participatory activity, and so releasing new ideas.


  • Recognise we need a plurality of response: This insight recognises the importance of validating your own capacity among others, relating your own capacity to others and shines a light on unconsidered/un-appreciated capacity. Understanding and witnessing others’ abilities can lead to greater tolerance.


Where we go from here

The Lab evidenced the potency of the designs through public sharings. The Test sessions made clear that more time is required to design ‘steps of engagement’ in relation to different audiences/settings and to pull on the ideas bank in relation to the settings.

The Be Me We Do design and delivery of events will be taken forward by a new partnership with artist/creative learner Nick Nuttgens, initiated during the lab process integrating creative links with Carbon Conversations programme. Be Me We Do is now described as Sustain Abilities and will be delivered to 40 arts organisations in East London and Birmingham in 2014 as part of a CidaCo programme building cultural resilience.

The lab has sparked new research relationships expanding from Institute of Work Psychology at University of Sheffield to the Department of Psychology’s energy behaviour specialist Dr Chris Jones,  and has led to a proposal submission to Sheffield University’s Festival of The Mind for public workshops in September 2014.

We hugely appreciate the supported by Artist Project Earth and Bank Street Arts in making the Lab possible and ingenuity and courage of the artists involved.. The Lab is a CidaCo/Case for Optimism partnership project. For more information go to and




“We are absolutely delighted that Artist Project Earth are supporting our work in promoting a creative response to sustainability.
So many of the skills and capacities we need to respond are scattered across our lives and go unrecognised. The Be-Me-We-Do Artist Lab will create an experience that will help people unearth these skills and so maxmise their Sustain Abilities. Huge thanks to APE.” – Anamanria Wills, CEO CidaCo

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